Mar 05

“Languishing” (Versus Flourishing) by Corey Keyes

The most-read article on the news site of the New York Times in 2021 was written by organizational psychologist  Adam Grant: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.” Subheading: “The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021.” It spoke to the feelings many had experienced related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But languishing is/was not just for the pandemic-weary. It predates all of that. Behind the long-term research on this subject and the coining of the term was sociologist Corey Keyes, PhD, whose book Languishing: How to Feel Alive Again in a World That Wears Us Down just came out.

Languishing is the opposite of flourishing, and about 12 percent of adults may meet the criteria, according to research Keyes published in the early 2000’s. Although not depression or a mental illness, languishing has symptoms that can include the following, per Ken Budd, AARP:

  • You feel emotionally flattened. It’s hard to muster excitement for upcoming milestones and events.
  • Things seem increasingly irrelevant, superficial or boring.
  • You regularly experience brain fog (for example, standing in the shower and trying to remember whether you’ve washed your hair).
  • You procrastinate on tasks as a why-try-anyway attitude sets in.
  • You feel restless, even rootless.

Publishers Weekly says, “Keyes explains that the state of mind involves a lack of excitement, community disconnection, and ‘the constant feeling of unease that you’re missing something that will make your life feel complete.’ It can also precipitate self-harming behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and ‘absenteeism’ from work or school, among other ill effects.”

Keyes himself has known languishing, which he believes is rooted in the abandonment, abuse, and neglect of his early childhood. He has successfully used therapy to help him focus more on flourishing. “The way I describe it is that the bruises are still there, but the black and blue doesn’t show anymore — and it’s not as painful when you touch it,” he told Budd.

For others who languish, age can be a factor. “Flourishing peaks between ages 60-65, Keyes writes, but starting around 70-75, languishing increases. Reasons can include the loss of mobility, independence and loved ones, accompanied by ‘ailments and indignities'” (AARP).

However, people of all ages and circumstances can be affected. What does Keyes advise to increase one’s chances of flourishing? 5 different options are considered in detail:

  1. Learn something.
  2. Build warm relationships.
  3. Seek spirituality.
  4. Find purpose.
  5. Make time to play.